Who do these pair remind you of? Yes that is correct, it is my best pal the dog. These are his mum and dad.
Like father like son eh!
Nice lady we got him from keeps us up to date and when I saw the photo above big daddy, it made me smile.
Dartmoor always seems to get binned-off when I'm looking for places to go hiking. It isn't easily reachable by public transport and it's about as far down south as you can get which rules it out for adventures with my usual outdoor-pals who nearly all live up north.
This weekend however, I finally got round to taking a trip down there and as an added bonus, I took the pup.
That's right, it was to be the hounds first wild-camping adventure and we would do the occasion proud; man, van and beast. Better make sure I pack a celebratory lager and a a few Bonios for our first summit.
The choice of location was a bit of a last minute thing so I was unprepared. I spent Saturday morning farting-around deciding what to take as well as locating a camping shop could call at en-route that stocked the correct OS map. I also needed gas for the Jetboil (wild-camping superstove) and I fancied a new rucksack (rock and roll).
Dartmoor is home to three major military firing ranges and the route I had planned crossed quite far into one of them, so you have to check that the army aren't dropping live ammunition all over the place when you go there. I was fine.
It was a good route - quite short at six miles but took in a number of tors, one of which looked ideal for a camp. It could also be cut short at almost any point if the weather was awful or the dog was knackered (I have to keep reminding myself he's only four months old and has short legs).
The drive down was a massive ball ache, it's the school holidays and I was in a traffic jam from the moment I set off. Even in the van, with a #vanlife attitude it was almost too much. I considered binning off Dartmoor yet again, tempting signs along the road offered diversions to camp-sites, cream teas and pick-your-own strawberries which were hard to resist.
Eventually, after about 7 hours which did include 20 minutes in a shop for the essentials (and a new rucksack!) the van was parked at the side of a Devonshire track and off we went, down into a small valley and then up the top of the first tor.
Dartmoor is amazing, it's so much more wild than I had expected and very much more beautiful. I hadn't even given this a thought, I had just gone with the assumption that it would be an hour+ closer than the Lake District and probably worth the trip. How wrong! It is a brilliant place.
There's an immediate change the moment you drive over a cattle grid into the national park, and even just two minutes off the main road it feels very remote. Despite the school holidays and the traffic I didn't see another person from the moment I got out of the van.
At the top of the first tor, it was clear that the hound had done enough walking. It may have only been 45 minutes away, and we may have only covered a mile and a bit, but it was all uphill and the long grass meant he had hopped up most of it, so despite his nervous energy and a refusal to sit still, we struck camp!
Behind our rock which was sheltering us from gusts of wind, I climbed into my bivvy, made dinner (chicken curry) and tried to feed the pup who was more interested in growling at some cows a mile away. I suppose I might growl at a cow if I'd never seen one before.
We had pitched a bit early so it took an hour for the sun to set but soon enough we were both nodding off in the sleeping bag with a phenomenal array of stars on display above us.
I've done loads of wild camps in all sorts of places but the noises in Dartmoor though the night were unique. The wind really grinds around all the tors and your imagination runs wild trying to explain that thing you just heard in the darkness.
The wildlife too was very different. In the Lakes you might get a sheep or a rabbit coming past at night but here we had badgers scurrying about and wild horses! Dozens of them tending their foals and gambolling around just meters away.
Our perch was quite high up so the only thing that actually interacted with us was a giant beetle, which Bowie attacked and tried to eat after it got into the sleeping bag, but I did briefly have to consider moving when it looked like the horses were going to come up and tread all over us.
The morning arrived. There is nothing quite like waking up just before dawn on the top of a hill in the wilderness. It's refreshing and inspiring. You feel invincible, especially if the view is good and the stove is bubbling away. You're the first and only person up there like it's all yours and you've conquered it!
Bowie had breakfast, I had a brew (forgot milk!) and we tramped back to the van and drove home. He's going to be a good camping pal, and we are definitely going to explore Dartmoor a bit more often!
The beast is finally complete, my first van project is done.
It is entirely "built not bought", not because I'm trying to keep it real, but because the off-the-shelf stuff didn't really work for how I want to use it.
I wanted a side-bed so that the full length of the van would be available for bikes/boards/sheets of plywood. The bed needed to be permanently up, I wanted the stove and sink to be at the rear but not hinder the entry/exit and for everything else to be as simple as possible to keep the van flexible.
It was important that it still worked as a van and I think I've got there. I'm very pleased with it.
The final steps were done this weekend. I had a fella come round and fit the windows I'd bought and I finally fitted my additional battery and split-charge system. So there will be plenty of power when I'm parked up somewhere, certainly enough to charge iphones, run the sink/lights and radio for a week without fear of the van refusing to re-start.
I can highly recommend getting a professional to do the windows, it's the kind of job where practice and attention to detail really pays off! As for the split charge system, that's the only job I did myself that I wish I'd got someone else to do. The wiring is straightforward enough but again it's the details of actually fitting the second battery under the bonnet.. especially when you're re-crimping cables that need to carry 300+amps... You can't do that on the cheap with some shitty soldering!
Anyhow, looking forward to the third trip away now that it's fully formed and the windows are in, luxury!
The van is nearing completion!
Last night I fitted an air vent, which I was a bit undecided about because I'm not entirely convinced that one is absolutely necessary.
So why did I take the plunge? I'd spent so long in going over the pros and cons without making a decision I was really annoyed with myself, so after a small glass of wine, I threw caution to the wind and went outside with my drill and a jigsaw. Christ!
Turns out that I should make more decisions like this because the result is excellent, and the vent is happily spinning away on the roof extracting air, you can properly feel it.
Only time will tell if it has a measurable effect on the condensation in the van when it's full of damp walking-gear but I am hopeful.
It will be good practice for cutting some windows in anyway!
Google Chrome is going down the bog a little bit which is a real shame. It is by far the quickest browser going and it is arguably the most secure, but like some of Googles other products at the moment it is losing some of it's appeal.
I've always loved the way that the big G does things. Form following function, minimalist tools that work brilliantly alone but also integrate seamlessly with other Google tools. Case in point, the Search homepage. Other case in point, gMail.
Parking the odd exception like the supremely complex Google Wave, their tools are generally awesome, have zero learning curve and occasionally include really positive game changing features.
Over the last few months though, some odd decisions seem to be getting made around features and UX.
Lots of small annoying things are creeping in across the estate.
Take the "new tab" page in the Chrome browser. there's a big grey bar across the top of it that states "for quick access, place your bookmarks here". I don't want bookmarks there, in fact I don't have any bookmarks but I can't get rid of that bar. It looks stupid and every time it opens up... it asks me.
Google Plus is another one. It has looked like a jumble sale for some time now which we are all used to, but it is features like "YOU MIGHT KNOW THESE PEOPLE" that make it unusable. There, centre stage every time you use it is a list of 50 people you've never heard of, that you can't remove, that Google want you add as friends.
Chrome again now, there is a very annoying feature called "desktop notification" that again you cannot switch off. It is a festering little icon in your system tray that pops up now and then with some kind of alert. The best thing is that when it has nothing to tell you, you can click on it and it will say "there is nothing to alert you about". So why the hell is it there at all?
Either they're fiddling with their suite of tools because they've peaked in terms of layout, design and innovation or they've made the decision to just do more stuff that drives up adoption and money and they're willing to sacrifice the design and usability for it.
Some actions are definitely deliberately vague.
Take the sign-in page you're presented with when you first open Chrome. It looks like the gMail login, but actually signs you into the Chrome browser. This then syncs your history, open tabs, bookmarks and logins by default. It's all a bit shady and you'd never notice because it does pass-through when you visit a Google site and signs you in automatically...
Anyhow, off the back of some of these annoyances I dumped Chrome a few weeks back and switched to Safari, which is super integrated with OS X and iOS, which are currently the best platforms for me. Safari doesn't fly at work where I use Linux/Firefox... but it's not a bad idea to separate those two lives anyway.
I guess after a long while of being very happy with the tools I use, I'm diversifying a bit.. never pays to have all your eggs in one basket and definitely don't be afraid to change!
I've been listening to this album a lot recently, thoroughly suggest checking them out.
It is called Amphetamine Ballads and the band are The Amazing Snakeheads, original British music, go support it.
They play London on 14th May. You may check them out over at Domino or listen directly below.
I lived in the middle of London for five years. During that time, although my head-office was but ten minutes stroll away I worked daily with my clients at their offices.
Over those years that meant three different commutes. A five hour round trip to Surrey on tube/national rail, a three hour on the train to West London and a slightly shorter one, also to West London.
After that I moved my ass to the green green county of Hertfordshire and I drove to work every day. This took an hour ish and allowed me to drink a cup of tea, not worry about the weather and develop an unhealthy addiction to the Today Programme and PM.
Anyhow, I'm now actually working in Central London, full time and my commute is down to a blissful 50 minutes (and I still get the Today programme on my stroll to the station in the morning).
All a bit backwards isn't it. I'm the furthest away from work I've ever been (30+ miles) but it's the quickest it's ever taken me to get there. Finally working in SE1 when I moved out of here two years ago.
I like going into London every day, it feels great, but even more than that I like leaving it and going back home!
Text me if you're around for a drink.
I am back into #vanlife proper now, having done a touch of self-building to the T4. My bed is in, the kitchen sink/hob has arrived and the unit to house it is being built!
As soon as the bed was up I went for a test-run up to the Scottish Highlands to do some camping because... Well I wanted to get away to the hills but also what better way to understand what to build next than by trying it out.
It is phenomenally easy to buy stuff for Volkswagen Transporters, there are thousands of accessories. You can look online and find some seats on a sliding rail, have them fitted, get some windows stuck in then have a kitchen unit built for you and then the job is done.
You could go wild buying stuff but none of the things I looked at really worked for me.
Most of the ready-made kits block off access to the rear of the van with seats, then take-up the whole length of one side with cupboards, leaving no room whatsoever for other stuff. Imagine owning a van but having to put a bike rack on it, or not being able to pick up a sheet of ply or plasterboard or a wardrobe. Useless
You need a comfy bed, a stove to brew up on, somewhere to put drinks and eat your breakfast from and then somewhere to hang wet gear. After that, some kind of storage that hides out of the way for clothes, hiking paraphenalia and food, then you're ready to go.
Well, sort of. That might be a bit bare minimum even for me, living in it did reveal some other amenities that the modern gentleman shouldn't be without. These include some additional lighting in the back, some curtains, a couple of USB charging points and a radio with a line-in for an ipad. Also a vent, because it got quite steamy in there brewing up with the doors shut in the torrential rain.
Anyhow, I'm glad to say that the beast is coming on in leaps and bounds and will soon be ready for a grand reveal....